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1999 "Pleasures of Dicovery"

Pleasures and discoveries in plenty! This 22nd International Museum Day saw all kinds of museums, open their doors to all kinds of visitors young and old from all the world over, who had come to explore, learn, be inspired, enjoy... More than 40 countries sent in reports on the events which took place and the preparations for them, and 18 May, 1999 saw a huge turn-out of visitors across the world - over 2,000 for that day alone in the Barbados!

The Pleasures of Discovery

In the material sent to ICOM Members, a definition of the museum stated that a museum is 'a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment'. This year, it was the pleasures of discovery that were highlighted, an aspect which ICOM President, Jacques Perot, stressed in comparing the visitor's experience of a museum to that of a journey where there is always some new and unsuspected angle to be explored. If the success of International Museum Day 1999 is anything to go by, the aims of museums to be exciting and pleasurable for visitors around the world were truly met.
This year, stickers advertising the event and promoting the 'Pleasures of Discovery' theme were sent by ICOM headquarters to all institutional members and Committees, who could use this in addition to their own publicity. ICOM National Committees organised press releases to publicise International Museum Day, produced posters for wide distribution, organised press conferences and booked television and radio slots. An inventive ICOM-Botswana produced stickers, flyers, posters and banners, and ICOM-Andorra created lively bookmarks and a range of special postcards illustrating Andorra's cultural heritage, to publicise the day.
Although conceived as a day event, yearly on 18 May, many countries extended their celebrations of International Museum Day, combined them with those of National Museum Week or integrated them into ongoing projects. A vast majority of museums were free on that day and many extended their opening hours, including free tours, behind-the-scenes trips, talks, lectures, trails and screenings... .
However, to give a real flavour of the imagination of participants and the many different pleasures and discoveries to be found on International Museum Day, a random survey of reports from ICOM Members yields the following: the Geological Museum in Mexico City (Mexico) organised, as part of the week-long Mexican celebrations, a build-your-own dinosaur competition; for the courageous, a bee safari was laid on by the Economusée du miel, Quebec (Canada) as part of its fortnight of celebrations; visitors could savour a demonstration of different cooking styles at the Ethnography Museum, Geneva (Switzerland), could attend a "cyberskool" of web-site discovery in India, go on architectural bicycle tours in Luxembourg or a workshop for consulting family trees in the Czech Republic. In short, whether the activity was hand-to-hand fighting tricks in Moscow, a sports carnival organised by ICOM-Malyasia or children dressing as knights in the Schloss Brake Museum, Lemgo (Germany), imagination was nowhere lacking.

From traditional dance via modern poetry to brand new museums...

In the hands of committed performers, workshop leaders and curators, the museum was the site of celebrations and rediscovery of little-known heritage, as well as the site where cultures of the future were explored: the Central African Republic, which was celebrating International Museum Day for the first time, organised traditional dance performances, as did ICOM-Singapore, along with craft shows; in Niger, traditional Kata fighting was demonstrated by school clubs; the Nairobi Museum, Nairobi (Kenya) hosted traditional African storytelling and a concert dedicated to the museum employees could be heard at the Janis Akuraters Museum, Riga (Latvia).
Jordan opened the doors of its archaeological collections, the Cyprus Museum (Cyprus) displayed on poster recent finds by the Department of Antiquities and Foreign Archaeological Missions and at Iasi (Romania), a large archaeological exhibition was arranged by the National "Moldova" Museum, displaying over 400 pieces of painted ceramic from the ancient Cucuteni culture of the area, the fruit of years of work by an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, geologists, anthropologists and curators.
Visitors could also discover a new artist or writer, for example at the Musée Palais Jamaï, Meknès (Morocco) where an exhibition of two Moroccan painters opened; and in Slovakia, a 3-day celebration at the Slovak Literary Museum in Martin included an exhibition on a famous 20th century woman poet, meetings with Slovak writers and interpreters of spiritual literature and talks and performances from the Slovak Marionnette Theatre. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) produced an innovative cross-disciplinary lecture series entitled Fetish, on fetishism in cinema, the arts, advertising, literature, fashion, religion... .
International Museum Day was also chosen for long-awaited and spectacular events such as the opening of a new museum: a 'Museum of Time' was inaugurated at Torre das Cabaças, Santarem (Portugal), a 'Museum of Life' in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and the new Ethnographic Museum (part of the National Museum of Helsinki) opened in Finland.
Refurbished museums opened to the public again, such as the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens (Greece) or the Ethnology Museum in Porto (Portugal), which was open for the first time since 1992. A new museum website (ICOM-Denmark) also graced virtual space for the first time on International Museum Day.
New collections were also presented, for example the San Telmo Museum, San Sebastian (Spain) displayed the J.J. Esteban Martin Donation, with works by 17 Basque artists and a Catalan painter. The public could also discover little-seen buildings or works, or recently restored pieces such as the preparatory sketches for the lost frescoes of the Ducal Palace in Genoa (Italy).

Fostering international links...

Some ICOM members saw in the 'Pleasures of Discovery' theme the opportunity to develop international links, promote different experiences of the museum world and explore lesser known perspectives by inviting speakers from other countries.
ICOM-Malaysia, where more than 80 museums took part in the celebrations which took place on the island of Langkawi, invited speakers from Australia and the Philippines, ICOM-Ireland invited the Director of Naturalis in the Netherlands to give the keynote speech of the day and the Museum of Non-European Cultures 'Dinz Rialto' in Rimini (Italy) devoted International Museum Day to the works and culture of Ecuador.
ICOM-Costa Rica worked with Texas Tech University, discussing the policies and strategy of the Museo Integral de Cultura e Identidad Nacional (MINCI), affiliated to the Centro de Investigacion en Identidad y Cultura Latinoamericanas (CIICLA).
A three-day certified course was organised for the personnel of the museums of Costa Rica by the National Museum of Costa Rica and the University of Costa Rica, entitled 'Introduction to Museology', and covering the history of the concept of the museum across the world, the international community of museums, material culture and other themes. Each day's theme was accompanied by a specially prepared exhibition and targeted exercises. Costa Rica's celebrations of International Museum Day - which lasted a fortnight - also coincided with the 112th anniversary of the National Museum of Costa Rica.
ICOM-Peru took these cross-cultural links one step further, outlining with Ecuador an inventive project for exchanging exhibitions (of craft, photos etc.) across their common frontier.

Debating and educating...

The day, week or longer was also devoted to the discussion of general issues affecting museums: ICOM-Rwanda organised debates on heritage and development, and there was discussion of a book by the Camerounian economist Etounga Manguele, organised in partnership with the French Cultural Centre, entitled "Does Africa need a programme of cultural readjustment?" In Ecuador, a round table discussion was held on the "Contribution of museums in a period of crisis", about the role of the museum today in its specific socio-political context.

The museum as a centre for learning and on-going education was also addressed. In Taiwan, International Museum Day was integrated into the 'Lifelong Learning' project at the National Museum of Natural Science. The National Campaign for Heritage Education was launched in Brazil on International Museum Day, conceiving of heritage as the object of a continual process of experimentation and discovery, and involving partnership with schools, institutions involved with archaeological and historic sites and monuments, as well as museums. The National Science Centre, Delhi (India) announced its exciting new mobile programme, to cover village schools in rural areas in states in Northern India. ICOM-Ivory Coast organised a round table discussion on the educational projects of the Museum of Civilisations of the Ivory Coast and ICOM-Mexico held discussions on the relation between the museum and the state, the role of community museums and the different ways in which visitors may discover local and national history. On this last subject, the Guarda Museum (Portugal) used the museum building itself as an historical object, discovering in its transformation from a seminary to a museum, from the 17th century to the present, a wider history. At the Regional Museum of Archaeology and Prehistory in Martinique, the marine archaeology display likewise gave an alternative version of the country's history; and the Randers Museum of Cultural History, Randers (Denmark) presented a new perspective on historical development through tracing the divergent paths of two friends born at the end of the last century in Randers.

The diversity and inventiveness of the projects produced for International Museum Day, the commitment of the organisers to a broad range of activities and to an open conception of the museum as a site of creative potential as well as a guardian of past cultures clearly met with enthusiastic responses: the turnout was generally high, and pleasures and discoveries awaited all who took part.


Updated: 20 September 2005